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Naoki Inoue wants title shot in last fight on RIZIN contract, feels ‘it’s good timing’ for Kai Asakura matchup

“When you think about the Japanese market and how fans will react, I think I will get a better reaction from fighting Asakura”

Naoki Inoue has been nearly perfect since his brief stint in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

The 25-year-old Japanese star went just 1-1 as a Flyweight in the Octagon before being unceremoniously released. A second career loss in Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC) immediately followed Inoue’s last fight in UFC, a split decision loss to Matt Schnell, before he returned home to Japan and went on the best stretch of his career.

Inoue won six straight in impressive fashion with the last two of those coming in the RIZIN Fighting Federation Bantamweight Grand Prix. Unfortunately for Inoue, he came up short against Hiromasa Ougikubo in the semifinals and has since rebounded with a Dec. 2022 submission over Kenta Takizawa. Inoue is chomping at the bit to get back in action after missing most of last year because of injuries. Ideally, his first career title fight will be the fight to finish his current RIZIN contract.

“I actually don’t have anyone specific that I want to fight so if it’s Soo Chul Kim, [Kai] Asakura, I’d be fine,” Inoue told MMA Mania on BROADENED HORIZIN. “When you think about the Japanese market and how fans will react, I think I will get a better reaction from fighting Asakura. So, I think that kinda makes sense, but anyone would be fine for me.

“I think fans want to see that fight [with Kai], but I kind of stumbled in the semifinals [in 2021] so it’s my fault here,” he laughed. “But yes, I think it’s good timing for us to fight.”

Inoue isn’t the only one with hopes of welcoming back a would-be superstar Asakura for a vacant title tilt. Competing alongside Inoue at RIZIN 40 this past New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31, 2023) was Bellator’s Juan Archuleta, who had a successful RIZIN debut, defeating Soo Chul Kim via a closely contested split decision. The U.S. promotion ended up sweeping RIZIN on the scoreboard, 5-0 in head-to-head bouts.

The Bellator versus RIZIN festivities didn’t include Inoue this time around, but he’s definitely interested in something down the line.

“I think Bellator was a little better,” Inoue said. “If they give me a shot at it, of course. I would love to fight their Bantamweights like [Juan] Archuleta or whoever’s in that tournament. I would be looking forward to that.”

Watch the full episode in the video embedded above or you can listen on Spotify.


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